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November 13th, 2010
10:47 PM ET

Pastor says student's suicide was tipping point for his coming out

The founder and pastor of a Georgia megachurch said Saturday that the September suicide of a Rutgers University student was the tipping point for his decision to come out of the closet to his congregation.

"For some reason, his situation was kind of the tipping point with me," said Jim Swilley, who calls himself a bishop. "There comes a point in your life where you say - how much time do we have left in our lives? Are we going to be authentic or not?"

Rutgers student Tyler Clementi, 18, jumped off a bridge after a secretly-taped sexual encounter between him and another man was posted on the internet.

Swilley, 52, said that he has known he is gay since childhood, but that he never thought he would live openly. He came out recently after more than 20 years of marriage to his former wife, who continues to work at their church.

"At a certain point, you are who you are," said Swilley, who has four children from two marriages.

He ministers at the Church in the Now, an inter-donominational Christian church in Conyers, Georgia, about 25 miles east of Atlanta.

"What I told my church is that I was given two things in my life that I didn't ask for... one is the call of God in my life and the other is my orientation. I didn't ever think that those two things could be compatible," Swilley said.

On the whole, he said his congregation has been supportive of his coming out, though some people have cut ties with him over the decision.

Homosexuality is a hotly contested issue by many faith traditions.

Earlier this month, Gene Robinson - the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church - said that death threats and the continued controversy around his selection contributed to his decision to announce his retirement.

Speaking specifically about evangelicals, Swilley said gay people are sometimes seen as trying to build a movement, or "recruiting" - views he took serious issue with.

"My position is not about gaying up the church," he said. "It's about people being who they are."

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Georgia • Homosexuality • United States

soundoff (977 Responses)
  1. DavidC

    Would someone please tell me why "Christianity" calls loving someone perverse, yet rallies behind those who, for their own pocketbooks, lie in order to illegally invade a sovereign nation and kill hundreds of thousands? Love or war...which is more perverse?

    November 14, 2010 at 3:17 pm |
  2. DavidC

    Joe Wilson – he sounds no more perverted than the C street gang

    November 14, 2010 at 3:11 pm |
  3. sunless

    try better that http://www.SUPERSONIC.US.COM !!!

    November 14, 2010 at 3:03 pm |
  4. Darth Vadik, CA

    Only a foolish thing such as religion can cause so much pain.
    Living a lie, there is no worse thing in the world, all caused because someone has quoted a 2000+ year old book that wasn't even translated properly...

    November 14, 2010 at 3:00 pm |
    • Basic 101

      Your reading must be quite limited. Have you reviewed recent articles about the morbidity and mortality risks associated with the hom ose xual li fe style and practices...not very pretty. Google-ly ugly!

      November 14, 2010 at 5:21 pm |
  5. joe wilson

    this pastor is a good example for people to learn about perverts nature ... it is decidely more self centered and evil than most people .... was this man honest? was he trustworthy? what could you learn from reading his book?? How to sucessfully blaspheme god ... maybe you could learn that from this man.

    November 14, 2010 at 2:59 pm |
  6. KDW31

    Do I agree with some christians views of gays? No. Just like I would not have agreed with many 18th and 19th century christians views of slavery or women. Do I think these views hurt those who are gay? Yes. If you are gay and a christian you should find a denomination/church that accepts you for who you are. They do exist. Should this man step down? That is up to his church. If he still feels he has a calling to preach he should continue to do it wherever he can. Personally I'm agnostic and for gay rights. Allowing gay rights has nothing to do with religion. Just as allowing equal rights for women, minorities, and allowing people of different races to marry should not be based on religion. Though I don't agree with any of the religious arguments here, I do accept the fact that nothing will change their mind. As long as religious doctrine is not used to make civil rights decisions they can continue to think how they wish.

    November 14, 2010 at 2:58 pm |
    • Basic 101

      Your logic it's like oil and water it doesn't mix nor does hom ose xaul ity
      mix with the precepts of christianity which holds the act as evil, an abomination, and sinful. It would be tossing the salad if he added vinegar: claim the g a-y style and leave...but you are taking the position he can have his cake and eat it too...that too much gall in the dressing.

      November 14, 2010 at 3:31 pm |
  7. DavidC

    Hey Joe Wilson – YOU lie!

    November 14, 2010 at 2:57 pm |
  8. joe wilson

    the bible says near the end of times that False Prophets and Perverts will be pleantiful .... based on the volume of false prophets and perverts in america .... there is no doubt that armageddon is near ...

    November 14, 2010 at 2:52 pm |
    • Darth Vadik, CA

      @joe wilson
      Only a perverted man that loves blood and death would welcome the armageddon, the end of days, rapture, or whatever you perverts call it these days. Crazy people have always thought that the end of days was near, but that is a narcissistic view of one's self thinking that you are so important that such a big event will happen during your lifetime, but keep dreaming 😉

      There will be such a day, but it will happen around 5-6 billion years from now, when the Sun loses most of its fuel, it expands almost as far as Mars and finally collapses in itself. Now if you would have gone to school instead of Sunday school, you would have known that. But when you are retarded, it really makes no difference to you does it?

      November 14, 2010 at 3:18 pm |
    • At The Sound Of The Bell

      I dont recall the word pervert in the bible.
      Did you pencil this in on your own ?

      November 15, 2010 at 3:22 pm |
  9. EdithCalifornia

    I thought God is a forgiving God! Does God hate Gays....no its people who can't deal with the idea of being different. Is there a law about being gay in the United States. Hey its not my life style but who should be the judge and jury. We need to be more excepting.
    What is "normal"

    November 14, 2010 at 2:48 pm |
  10. The Dude

    "Religion is poison" - Mao

    November 14, 2010 at 2:48 pm |
    • Basic 101

      Looks like a religious statement to me.

      November 14, 2010 at 4:09 pm |
    • Basic 101

      ...so-ooo Mao is poison....

      November 14, 2010 at 4:17 pm |
    • Sum Dude

      Basic101 – I think I hear your Mommy calling you.....

      November 14, 2010 at 4:28 pm |
    • Basic 101

      Yes, the Mother of God, mother of Jesus!

      November 14, 2010 at 4:39 pm |
  11. Jesus

    owl8. Thanks for asking because not too many people ask how I am. No doubt, still groovy. I have a nickname too. Most of my friends call me Tragically Hip these days. They made T-shirts and stuff. I asked DAD why everyone is angry. Did I do something wrong. NO he said in that voice he sometimes gets when he's annoyed. He told me I was solid and this anger we've been reading today has nothing to do with me. Sweeeet.

    November 14, 2010 at 2:41 pm |
  12. DavidC

    Weaselgal – your words are AWESOME!

    November 14, 2010 at 2:38 pm |
    • Basic 101

      ...and you must be the chimeric blind moleman that hangs out with weaselgal...

      November 14, 2010 at 3:08 pm |
    • weaselgal

      DavidC, I was simply speaking my mind, unlike some BASIC morons. Name calling is juvenile and yes, I have called names because I was fed up and pushed to my limit with the religious hysteria going on here. This country is not a bloody theocracy–deal with it. There is no cross mounted on top of the White House. People like this pastor are human beings. They should not be forced to hate themselves because of hateful, micro-minded bigots like I've seen here.
      As for the name calling, it's quite pathetic that some have to descend to that level in order to prove their manliness. I'm used to bullies like you; spent my life putting up with their abuse. I was brutalized by them to the point I considered suicide many times. Oh, and I know what'll come from that line–so why didn't I kill myself and spare all of you my nonsense? It's because I was too stubborn to give up, and it owes nothing to faith. So being gay is a choice? How about anyone born with a disability? Did they ask to be born that way? Did God decide to make a child be born without limbs because of some sin committed by the parents? I've heard that kind of explanation used before. I was born with birth defects; did I commit some sin within the womb for me to be born that way? Should someone end their life because they were born a minority, or because they have two different colored eyes? We all make mistakes, but it shouldn't encourage us to hate one another with such passion.

      November 14, 2010 at 9:50 pm |
  13. weaselgal

    You know, you right wing freakshows really disgust me. I have tried to be respectful, I have tried to treat you with courtesy and kindness, but all you spout is monstrous hatred. How about someone who was born with disabilities, or born without limbs? Are you seriously going to tell me that it's what God wanted for that child?! Are you going to say that the child was born afflicted because its parents sinned against God? I never asked for my disabilities, of the countless surgeries, the partial blindness, the endless bullying that drove me to the point of suicide many times. How about if someone is born with brown or black hair, instead of blond–are they inferior somehow? What if the kid has two different colored eyes, are they suddenly an abomination?
    This is why I have such contempt for you people, you wild-eyed fanatics. You do not own me, or my life, or my soul. I am not your spiritual property, nor is my life your business to meddle in. What you do is intrusive, rude, antagonistic and obnoxious. You are nothing more than modern-day Pharisees. You cannot force religion on someone who is not interested. Have you noticed that when you take your bully-pulpit tactics on the road, people don't appreciate being heckled and berated for not following your God? You turn that into martyrdom, and try to spin it as 'discrimination'. I am tired of it. I am tired of you self-appointed judges of God's Word threatening, harrassing, terrorizing the rest of us. You've completely forgotten what it means to be humble. Shame on you.

    November 14, 2010 at 2:30 pm |
    • Basic 101

      Weaselgal, Uh, you sound as chimeric as the schizoid-monster who wants to be g a-y AND a christian pastor. Are you eyes too beady to see the light of contradiction here!

      November 14, 2010 at 3:03 pm |
    • Sum Dude

      @weaselgal – your post is wonderful – I try to write stuff like that – honest and direct – but you have outdone me this day.
      Thanks. 😀

      November 14, 2010 at 3:18 pm |
    • Darth Vadik, CA

      @weaselgal

      One of the most thoughtful and well written posts I have seen in a long time, too bad that only people that would understand it are people who are already bright and on your side. You can't teach reason to someone who believes in lakes of fire and talking snakes any more than you can teach a pig to talk. I'd like to say that one day there will be true justice, but we have way to many dumb people in this world for that ever to come true.

      November 14, 2010 at 3:26 pm |
    • Basic 101

      Ohoo...how nice...the duo moronic gatekeepers of idiocy to the rescue of weaselgirl who couldn't reconize truth if it was a mole on the nose. She-he, weaselgirl, made it an issue of religion. I am making it an issue of logic: g a-y premises are incompatible with Christian precepts. You can't be or do both without contradicting self and christian principles.

      November 14, 2010 at 4:03 pm |
  14. Jesus

    Hi. It's me again. I'm sitting here having a tuna salad sandwich with DAD. He's asked to quit using HIS name please. You're giving him a headache. He would like you to cut back on the caffeine too. That's soooo him...

    November 14, 2010 at 2:28 pm |
    • Little Timmy

      Hi Jesus! What's your dad's name? And can I have a sandwich too?

      November 14, 2010 at 3:45 pm |
  15. Basic 101

    This man is living contradiction. A real Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde lunatic. He struggled living this laboratory, experimental life breaking a lotta glass in the lives of those who loved and trusted him. After all is said and done, the man has yet to reconcile with any consistency or truth for he wants to be
    g a-y and a christain pastor. Talk about a MAJOR contradiction, he puts old two-face villain, batman's nemesis right in front GQ magazine. Moveover, two-face, there's someone in the real world better looking then you...it is even more ludicrous are the essays defending this schizoid-monster actions for any 3rd grader reconizing horror runs away screaming!

    November 14, 2010 at 2:26 pm |
  16. Philip

    I'm impressed with his church accepting him. However, the Bibles really clear in it's hate. It's not accepting of gays, women, etc. So, it's an oxymoron to try to believe in gay or women's rights, yet claim to be a born again Christian.

    November 14, 2010 at 2:20 pm |
  17. Linda

    Repent!!!!!!!!!! Isn't that what John the Baptist preached. We need to be very aware of the seducing spirits around us.
    They attach to our woundedness. People- go to the Divine Physician, JESUS, there you will find healing and deliverance.
    Seek the Face of God and live in righteousness and truth.

    November 14, 2010 at 2:19 pm |
  18. Kaz

    Hogan...in all humility, may I correct your Scripture quote...we are in the world but not of the world...[John 17:15-17, Romans 12:2]. I get your point though...this man needs our prayers.

    November 14, 2010 at 2:16 pm |
  19. larry

    That would be the wise in their own eyes. People who have no belief fasinate me because i see so much good in the bible. so many things predicted or foretold. In Genisis were told what to eat, seed brearing plants, not bread, pizza, etc. just plants and vegies. Today we know, because of science, that the best foods for us, organic form, is food from seeds. Thers is to much wisdom there to come from man at that time. Also the Earth, what is called the first heaven, is simply too damn perfect, to be an accident.

    November 14, 2010 at 2:10 pm |
  20. owl8

    In his situation, as a pastor, the morally responsible action would be to step down. He knew when taking on the role (job) that there were certain criteria, such as to be an ethical and moral leader, that he would have to uphold. He failed in the eyes of the congregation. He admitted that being gay and a pastor carried conflict. I think it's great that he feels he can be who he is! He may just have to find another area to persue his passions.

    Sadly for people who only want to be who they truly are, there are angry christians who cannot stand for it. Everyone, have a nice Sunday.

    November 14, 2010 at 2:09 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.